Today's performance arena for secular baroque music is far removed from the elegant airs and Tafelmusik of the European court – almost laughably. Radio producers have found that jangly original instruments stand up well to the dynamic compression of FM broadcast. Add to that the concerto grosso's predilection for jaunty tempos, treble-heavy orchestration, and major keys, and this 18th Century mainstay is making a big hit on today's superhighways. (Pressure from the boss goes down a lot easier with a Courante than with a Liebestod.) Enter Scott Reiss and Hesperus with a program of concertos for recorder (he plays soprano, alto, and sopranino). Five out of six are in major keys – three in C Major. On the home stereo this is a fine performance of second-rate music; on the road, this is a dead-ringer for "commuter baroque."
On first listen, Reiss' breath control bothered me. On sustained notes, he makes a crescendo after the initial attack; it's probably considered "good technique," but it sounds to me like he is trying to imitate the breathy quality of the transverse flute. This mini-crescendo is most apparent in the cadenza of "Il Gardellino." I've since become accustomed to it. The rest of his technique is formidable indeed (try the rapid arpeggios opening the Vivaldi RV 444).
Hesperus (the ensemble) makes the best of a ho-hum genre. The program is generous and brightly recorded – enough for a long commute.
Copyright © 1997, Robert J. Sullivan